Archive for September, 2013

Okay, I’ll admit it. I love doing lists. I don’t know why, but I really enjoy ranking games and systems and such. I also love reading other people’s rankings and thoughts on such things. This will not be the last list you see from me on here, though I’ll try not to get into a rut with these.

My rules for this list are simple: I must have played the system. That’s pretty much it. I realize there will be some disagreement here, but this is really my own opinion and I would expect people to have differing opinions. With any luck, my factual errors will be at a minimum and, should any exist, will be inconsequential to the arguments I’ve made for each system.

5. NES

Believe it or not, this isn’t totally based on Nostalgia (maybe a little). Sure, that does help, but all that put aside, the NES was a pretty amazing little system. It did so much with so little, in terms of power and capability and benefited greatly from developers experimenting and finding their oats. It’s actually quite amazing that developers delivered so many brilliant games given that many of them had little development experience. The NES also benefitted from some of Nintendo’s more archaic licensing rules, which gave the NES an incredible load of exclusive games from third parties. Also, just from an historic point of view, it’s worth mentioning that this system almost single-handedly brought video games back into the main stream after the collapse in the very early 1980’s.

Notable Games/Franchises: Super Mario Brothers, Mega Man, Castlevania, Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Adventure Island, Faxanadu, Crystalis, Ninja Gaiden, Final Fantasy, Kid Icarus, Kirby’s Adventure, Dragon Warrior

4. Wii

The Nintendo Wii received quite a bit of undue criticism for being underpowered and a “kiddy” system. The underpowered part is at least somewhat valid. It didn’t concern me at all (I’d be fine with PS2/GCN/Xbox level graphics, frankly). For those that looked deeper, there were actually quite a few games that weren’t quick cash-ins loaded with waggling gimmicks, which the Wii did, unfortunately, see many of. While it is fair to point out that the Wii did seem to cater quite a bit the more casual audience that helped make it the success it became, there were also quite a few games targeted towards more “serious” gamers. Despite the fact that the most unique and marketed feature of the Wii was the motion control, most of the games I found the most enjoyable employed it in complementary ways as opposed to making it the focal point of the game, excepting any FPS type games here, where using the remote to aim was a given. Aside from the Wii games, Nintendo also included backwards compatibility with the Gamecube as well as the Virtual Console, which saw the release of games from all of Nintendo’s cartridge based systems as well as their past competitor consoles (Sega, Turbo-Grafx 16, Neo Geo). Hundreds of older games that are difficult, if not impossible, to find now? Sign me up.

Notable Games: Metroid Prime Trilogy, Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2, Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, Okami, Donkey Kong Country Returns, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, de Blog, Boom Blox, Epic Mickey

3. Xbox 360

I know what you’re thinking. This is all Nintendo fanboy talk. Here is where I deviate from that. I never had an Xbox, but was also never impressed with the library. The games I liked I could get on a PS2. I didn’t pass up the 360, however. Microsoft has done quite a bit wrong with their marketing lately, but the 360 is a pretty great little…well, big machine. It managed to get most of the releases the PS3 received while bolstering it’s own first party deliveries. Even though I’m not a fan of the Halo series, it’s impact can’t be overlooked with Halo 3 being a major selling point for this console. Throw in some originals not of the FPS variety along with strong third party support, and it’s easy to see why this system outsold the PS3 (okay, the pricing situation may have helped a bit as well). Microsoft also matched the Wii to some degree by offering older games for purchase as well as bolstering a large library of digital only games for download.

Notable Games: Halo 3, Fable 2, Dead Space, Bioshock, Rock Band 3, Enslaved, NIER, Final Fantasy XIII, Viva Pinata, Shadow Complex, Metal Gear Solid 4

2. Playstation 2

With consoles, nothing ever goes perfectly. There are always a few glitches, a few missteps, something that throws the company off of their stride. The exception to that  statement could very will be the PS2. It was a perfect storm of a console. It had amazing third party support, graphics/power close to or on-par with the competition, backwards compatibility, as well as strong first party support, including new and existing franchises, and exclusive deals with the aforementioned third parties which gave the PS2 exclusives such as Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Dragon Quest, and Devil May Cry. Granted, these series are no longer exclusive in this manner, but where during the heyday of the PS2. Gamers responded to these factors, buying the PS2 in droves. To say it only beat the competition doesn’t do it justice. It destroyed the GCN and Xbox in sales. As much as I love Nintendo and the Gamecube, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t understand why.

Notable Games/Franchises: Ratchet & Clank, God of War, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Jak & Daxter, Sly Cooper, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Legacy of Kain

1. Super NES

In the end, there is only one console I could put here. I started this list with the NES and admitted that there was at least a bit of nostalgia in that pick. That is not the case here. Oh, there is nostalgia, but I have no qualms putting the quality of games available for the Super NES against anything offered today. The Super NES had more missteps than the PS2….such as aiding to spawn the PS1. Those aside, no console has a stronger game library than this system. Not only did Nintendo pepper this system with some of the most well designed of their own franchises, but third parties took everything they had learned from the NES and Master System and matched Nintendo’s level of quality with their own games. I may have grown up with the NES, but it was the Super NES I played in my early Nintendo years, and I will hold the quality of this system up against any system available today.

Notable Games/Franchises: Super Mario World, Mega Man X, Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore, Final Fantasy, Super Metroid, Starfox, Super Castlevania IV, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter 2, Super Mario Kart, EVO: The Search for Eden, Donkey Kong Country

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I’ve been playing games for around 25 years, dating back to the NES and Atari (2600, 5200…can’t really remember). When I put in an older cart such as Super Mario Brothers 3, Super Metroid, or an early Legend of Zelda, I’m playing the game, but I’m also getting a direct connection to memories from my childhood. I’m playing through levels that have been imprinted in my mind, battling enemies that have no chance because I remember their every move (except in Ninja Gaiden, geez).

I can think of no other medium that holds such nostalgic power. Sure, as much as I love a movie like Batman, I think Iron Man and The Avengers are better movies. It’s not even a hard call for me to make. While I love the works of Mark Twain and H.G. Wells, I prefer the work of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. Video games though, are different. They bring you into their world like other mediums can’t. Allow you to make decisions about what happens and how you proceed (okay, Choose Your Own Adventure did kind of allow this). There is, generally speaking, no set path. For me personally, it makes playing through a game a very personal experience b/c I’m actively involved in it. I think this is a large part of what creates the nostalgic feelings I get with my older games. That said, is Super Metroid truly, objectively better than Bioshock? Is A Link to the Past better than Oblivion? Is Super Mario Brothers 3 really a better game than something like Ratchet & Clank? Or, has the nostalgia I feel for those games made me irreversibly biased. Seeing greatness that has since faded with the advancement in technology.

I don’t know if this question can ever be answered. How do you possibly make comparisons separated not only by time, but also by technological advancements? Also, for many long-time gamers, such as myself, I imagine that new games are going to be handicapped because they don’t contain that sense of wonder that older games recall. It doesn’t mean they aren’t as good as their older counterparts, they are just lacking an element that, unfortunately, can’t be recreated. Gamers growing up now will probably have this experience with current games. When they play an old NES, Sega Genesis, or Super NES game, I suspect that many of them see a fun game, but are probably underwhelmed, and assuming they do feel that way, they’re right to do so. For them, there is no rush of fondness, of easier times, summers spent roaming Hyrule or exploring the caverns of Zebes. What they will have is that rush of the first time they stepped off the elevator and into Rapture. I wish I could give them the wonder I feel with older games, but I also envy the nostalgia they are creating right now.

So, Friday night on Twitter, #unpopularopinionnight was trending. Deciding I had trolled the Final Fantasy VII fans enough by calling it overrated, I tweeted this:

I didn’t think too much about it. Figured it would get a couple of comments, some agreeing, some saying the first was still better.

We’ll say he’s undecided.

Most gamers know the history of the US version of Super Mario Brothers 2. Very quickly, it was adapted from a game called Doki Doki Panic (itself based on a Mario prototype testing vertical scrolling and multiplayer). It came to the US because NOA didn’t like the fact that the Japanese Mario 2 was virtually identical to the original, only much, much more difficult. Mario 2 US was the solution.

All that aside, this tweet did make me think. I was essentially calling out a classic, groundbreaking game as being an inferior game. Could I criticize a game that still makes top games lists today without denigrating what it meant for the video game industry upon its release?

First of all, yes, I really do believe the US Super Mario Brothers 2 is better than the original Super Mario Brothers. I have no issues saying that. I just think it’s a better game. You know what other Mario games I think are better than the original Mario? Every other sequel to Super Mario Brothers, from Super Mario Brothers 3 to Super Mario Galaxy 2. Does that mean I think SMB is a bad game? Not at all. It’s a great game, but it’s also immediately handicapped by being the first of its kind. There is almost no way it could stand up if judged objectively along side it’s sequels, but only because it set the foundation for those sequels to be bigger and better.

Video game sequels are in a unique position to build upon their predecessors in ways that other mediums, such as movies, can’t. Developers can take what worked, drop what might have been problematic, add some new quirks, and go with it. Mega Man has had 10 outings using virtually the same outline for each game. Horror movie franchises are the only other entertainment medium that can pull that off.

This isn’t specific to Super Mario Brothers either. The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Starfox, Final Fantasy, and Sonic the Hedgehog (the 16 bit sequels, don’t laugh) all are widely renowned games that have sequels that surpass what they were able to do in their initial outings. It doesn’t diminish them in any way, it is just that they were tasked with being the testing ground for new ideas. After they were released and absorbed by the gaming public at large, those ideas could be refined based on feedback from the players, giving us A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, Starfox 64, Final Fantasy VI, and Sonic 2 and 3 (seriously, ignore everything after the Dreamcast).

What sets Super Mario Brothers apart here is that it set the foundation for everything. It was the first game nearly everyone with an NES played. It didn’t just test a new type of gameplay, it was testing gameplay itself. It was testing whether or not consumers were ready for more video games after the video game crash in the early 80’s. Look on any list of the most influential video games and you’ll find Super Mario Brothers at or near the very top. Almost always at least in the top three. Does that mean we can’t go back and say that excepting what it did for Nintendo, the NES, and video games in general, it isn’t as good as the games that followed it? Of course not. It laid the foundation for Super Mario Brothers 2, 3, World, etc… Saying that it isn’t as good is just making an opinion of it’s gameplay. It doesn’t take anything away from the importance it played in shaping the gaming market we enjoy today.

And Final Fantasy VII is vastly overrated. đŸ˜€

Grand Theft Auto V (GTAV) cost around $250 million to develop and has made about $800 million at the time of this writing. I’m sure that figure will go up. It is the most expensive video game ever made, and I’m assuming is among the top grossing video games, if not the top game in terms of revenue. That’s great for Rockstar. Kudos to them for making a well reviewed and received game and seeing amazing sales. That’s a wonderful story. For the video game market as a whole, however, I believe this is a very bad development.

In the past few years, we’ve seen the release of Darksiders 2, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 6, and Dead Space 3. These games have three major points in common. All are well known franchises, all cost quite a bit to develop, and all performed beneath expectations. On it’s face, one would assume this means none of the games sold many copies, but look deeper. Units sold (ytd):

– Darksiders 2: 1.5 million
– Tomb Raider: 4 million
– Resident Evil 6: 4.5 million
– Dead Space 3: 1.3 million
(Figures via Wikipedia & VGChartz)

We are now living in a video game world where a game that moves four million copies does not meet expectations and endangers the future of its franchise (assuming it isn’t a new IP). Rumors (unsubstantiated) swirled that Dead Space 4 was cancelled by EA shortly after it failed to meet expectations. Please note that this was only rumor and was rebuffed by executives at EA.

Obviously, I’m ignoring the quality of the games in the argument I’m making, but only because my overall point is that in an industry where over one million sales isn’t profitable for a product, you have to begin questioning development costs. There is a growing chasm between the larger games and smaller games. Those in the middle can no longer survive. The positive here is that this has led to a glut of indie and digital only games that are brilliant and a joy to play. The negative is that any game attempting to be a AAA release has to move an ungodly amount of copies to be financially successful. Great reviews don’t matter if the profits and sales aren’t there.

I don’t know the solution to this. The evolution and advancement of gaming consoles is a given. New technology means higher costs to develop for said technology. Have the consoles gotten ahead of where games are ready to be? Apparently not. The Xbox One and PS4 will be launching this fall and both have a large lineup of games ready to go for the launch window. You have wonder how many units each of those games will have to move to be successful, especially when considering that they were made for a brand new console and most likely had higher development costs than current generation games.

GTAV will succeed where the above games failed. It will be profitable and will continue on at some point. Many games will not be so lucky and will be called a failure. Not because they sold only a few thousand copies or reviewed poorly, but because they were unable to move the millions of copies needed to recoup their cost. Every new IP or new entry in an existing franchise that aims to be a renowned AAA title from here on out will be walking a very fine line, and if they fall a bit short, it could lead to a door being shut on their future.

I’ve already told you that I’m a Nintendo fan. I can’t help it. I do come by it honestly, having grown up with the NES, Super NES, etc… Therefore, even though I do own other consoles, I also root for Nintendo just as I would a sports team. A console exclusive is a victory, a shutout in a game of baseball. It’s the icing on the console cake. For a long time, I loved seeing Nintendo get these b/c it was a win for them, another reason why people should try a console by a company I love.

With the WiiU, I’m beginning to rethink this stance. Now, to be clear, I’m not speaking of first party games. They will obviously be exclusive. Mario, Zelda, and Samus aren’t appearing on the PS4 or Xbox One any sooner than Master Chief will have an outing on the PSVita or Ratchet & Clank on the WiiU. No, I’m speaking strictly of third party games. A game like Dead Rising 3 being exclusive to the Xbox One isn’t a big deal to me b/c that is an established brand. It’s going to be fine, if only b/c of name value. And that is the case many times. Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles moved over a million copies on the Wii b/c it is a known entity with an existing fanbase (and a pretty fun game, frankly).

I become concerned when I see a game like The Wonderful 101 being released exclusively for the WiiU. At one point in time, this would have thrilled me (it’s a win!), but I’ve come to reconsider this stance. Released in Japan recently, it moved only a few thousand copies in week one, disappointing by just about any measure. It’s not hard to see why it moved so few. A new IP on a struggling console? Not too unexpected, even if it is a fun game (reviews have been fairly positive so far, as has the Twitter feedback I’ve seen).

Making things worse for this game is that TW101 will never be ported b/c Nintendo is handling the publishing duties. It only goes somewhere else if they decide to send it there. I’m willing to bet that Nintendo won’t send it to Sony or Microsoft just for kicks.

The thing is, I wish it could be ported. This is a game that was crafted by a studio with a great deal of love and dedication, and now it could potentially die a slow death simply b/c of the console it has been tied to. This makes me extremely sad. I want as many people as possible to experience this game, and that’s not going to happen. Now, obviously, maybe Nintendo turns around the WiiU, the price on TW101 is dropped and it ends up experiencing a long sales curve and finds success. I never count out Nintendo, but I don’t think this is extremely likely to happen.

TW101 is only the most recent example. Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower are all well reviewed games, made exclusively for the Wii, but released very late in it’s life when WiiU hype (lol!) was taking over. Xenoblade has become something of a collector’s item in NA due to Gamestop controlling distribution. A copy can be had for around $80 now. The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower haven’t seen that fate just yet, but all three of these are good games that some people will never play b/c of the console they are available on and the timing of their release. The backwards compatibility of the WiiU doesn’t seem to be a factor in helping them either, at least, not yet.

I realize this isn’t exclusive to Nintendo, I just happen to know their recent library very well. I’m also not naive enough to think this will change anytime soon, and I completely understand why it wouldn’t. This is a business and success is key. Giving the consumer something your competitors can’t makes your product that much more appealing. I just hope that games like TW101 do eventually find an audience and succeed where it matters most to the businessmen that run Nintendo. Not b/c I want the success for Nintendo, but for the developers that gave so much of their time and effort to crafting a game that too few people may ever play. I’ve evolved from someone that supports a system or a company to someone that supports good games, no matter what medium they are on.